11 Jan 2019

#Review: GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE by Natasha Ngan


Author: Natasha Ngan
Series: Girls of Paper and Fire #1
Source: Purchased from Chapters
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It's the highest honor they could hope for...and the most cruel.

But this year, there's a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after--the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king's interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king's consort. But Lei isn't content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable--she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.

TW: violence and sexual abuse.
Amazon | Chapters | TBD
Disclaimer: This book (and, subsequently, my review) has trigger warnings for domestic abuse, sexual assault, and gore. I discuss all these things in my review so if this is triggering to you, please use caution and self-care before, during, and after reading both this review and the book.

I read this as a buddy read with Theresa!

I felt like there was a lot missing in this one to make it a decent read. There were so many contradictions in the plot, writing, character's actions, etc. that it made it difficult to follow. I was glad that there was the story of being strong even during abuse and rape because that doesn't happen often in media, especially media targeted to teens. However, I had issues with how that was portrayed as well.

I am going to start with how Lei becomes a Paper Girl because it just didn't make sense and felt very forced to become the focus of the story. The rest of the girls had to go through a rigorous process to potentially be chosen to be a Paper Girl (which like, oh boy don't get me started on that but we didn't even see it happen so...) whereas the General just somehow knew about Lei and went to find her to choose her to be a Paper Girl. Considering she could have been killed or branded or whatever if she hadn't been a virgin, seems strange to me that any random girl could be chosen, basically off the streets, to be a Paper Girl. But we had to get to the plot somehow so there we go.

The characters were all pretty bland. Lei was infuriating, Blue was your typical spoiled brat, Aoki was probably who we were supposed to sympathize with, and Wren was interesting until she made really out of character choices. I couldn't even tell you the names of the other girls because they were fillers because there are eight girls chosen every year.

I read this because I was told there was a slow-burn lesbian romance. But that is not really the case. Yes, there is a lesbian romance between Wren and Lei. But it is not slow-burn. They have like two conversations and then make out. From the time Lei realizes she probably likes Wren to when they make out is maybe 6 chapters. MAYBE. That isn't slow burn. That's lightning quick. It is forbidden so maybe that is what it should be labelled as instead. However, I didn't really feel the chemistry between them. Probably because I thought Wren was too good for Lei.

There was so much potential to this story, this world, and this plot, but we got such a limited view to it because we only got the world through Lei and her limited view. But she never explored... anything. For example, the Sickness. Sickness? Lei had never heard of it and then didn't care. Here is what I know about the Sickness: it is affecting the lands, it makes the King mad, and he thinks it is the gods punishing him. I have no idea what the Sickness is or does, but who cares!!!!

This book focused around the plot to kill the King. When the main "team" to kill the King becomes incapacitated for reasons I don't want to say because it would be a spoiler, it falls on ... Lei. Instead of all the other people that we find out that are involved and have had so much more training and would be that much more logical, it is Lei. And Theresa and I thought maybe this was so we could have the kill your abuser fantasy in here, which is great. But that also brings me to the next part.

I am going to talk about the sexual assault and abuse now. If that triggers you, please be cautious.

I am so glad that this book examines abusive relationships and doesn't make them into something they are not. I am so glad this book is realistic about sexual assault and abuse. I think it is so important that Lei is shown as strong throughout the abuse. I am glad she didn't "succumb" to falling for her abuser and understood he was the true enemy the entire time.

I am NOT happy that Lei is seen as Brave for refusing her abuser, ultimately making the other girls seem as less than for not resisting. I am also not glad that Lei treats Aoki like garbage for falling in love with her abuser because not only does it happen all the time but it doesn't actually help the people who are in abusive relationships. I am not happy that sex is treated in contradictions throughout with Lei stating that they have been told to wait for marriage so it would feel better.

Ultimately, I thought there was some good messaging packed into a very underwhelming and boring fantasy. It was lacking something unique to make it a truly wonderful book. I was hoping for so much more from this but am unhappy with some of the messaging, lack of a real plot, and Lei being boring. I will probably not be continuing with this series.

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